Michael W. Freeman is a veteran journalist, playwright and author. Born and raised in Fall River, Massachusetts, he has lived in Orlando since 2002. Michael has worked for some of Florida's largest newspapers, including The Orlando Sentinel. His original plays have draw strong audiences at the Orlando Fringe Festival. He is the author of the novels "Bloody Rabbit" and "Koby's New Home."

Serving in the Armed Forces can be a very rewarding experience — but it’s important to understand the health risks, Freeline Media contributor Emily Walsh points out. (Photo by Michael Freeman).
Editor’s Note: Emily Walsh is a Community Outreach Blogger for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance who currently writes about various veteran and military health topics. She wrote this guest column about the health risks facing those in the Armed Services for Freeline Media.

Military service is an extremely challenging environment — with many rewards. Many of those in the service find themselves serving in parts of the world where life-threatening hazards are found. Obviously, losing one’s life in combat is the greatest threat in any military.
In reality, though, some of the most significant threats to our brave men and women are not so visible.
Let’s examine a few of these health risks:
* Stress
Stress is a good example of an unseen threat in the military. In the short term, stress is not a major hazard. In fact, it actually can help lend a greater sense of awareness in stressful situations.
However, chronic stress can be very damaging to the mind and body. Being trapped in a very stressful situation for long periods can lead to many mental and physical problems. For example, the functioning of the immune system can drop. Minds can suffer long-lasting damage. Suicide rates and cancer risks can increase.
If removing yourself from the stressful situation is not possible, other coping strategies must be employed. If there is access to a counselor or chaplain, this may be advisable.
Simply bottling up the emotions is the worst thing you can do in this situation. Some people, often men, feel that opening up is somehow selfish or weak. In actuality, if failing to do so leads to disability, then that itself may be seen as a weakness.
The bottom line: there is no shame in revealing your struggles. Everyone has them in one form or another.
* Exposure
Military service can expose you to hazardous and toxic agents. One such chemical was Agent Orange, which was used during the Vietnam War. Exposure occurred when the military sprayed a defoliant in the jungles of Vietnam. The material was toxic and caused a variety of medical problems to many of those who were exposed to it.
The medical disorders caused by Agent Orange included soft tissue sarcoma, heart disease, cutanea tarda, and many others.
Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan also saw exposure to things like toxic aerosols, open burning pits, burning petroleum and smoke, and chromium, among others.
Many veterans who served prior to the 1990s were exposed to a variety of toxic substances like asbestos. Asbestos was used widely on ships built in the early part of the 20th century. Ingesting or breathing asbestos can cause mesothelioma (What is mesothelioma?) and asbestosis.
Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan also saw exposure to things like toxic aerosols, open burning pits, burning petroleum and smoke, and chromium, among others.
While the health risks of being in the military can be frightening, there are effective ways to deal with all of the problems that may arise from time in the service. I truly believe this information is of great value to those active or retired, and especially their loved ones.

Contact Emily Walsh at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.

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